From Chicago, 3 weekend getaways that require less than a tank of gas
Gas prices are making you feel like your travel plans this summer can’t go any further than a Emily in Paris Netflix Marathon?
Put that remote down, because we’ve got a roundup of three destinations that are just a tank of gas away but will make you feel like you’re in a whole new world.
Lake Geneva, WI (83 miles)
Lake Geneva has been described as the “Hamptons of Chicago,” but in our opinion, it’s even better – after all, eastern Long Island has nothing on the cheese shops and breweries of Wisconsin.
Pit stop: Volo Automobile Museum (Volo, IL)
There are a few things every weekend needs – some nice coffees, a fully charged phone and… maybe a quick pic of the real car of Blues Brothers. The Volo Car Museum (on your way to Lake Geneva) has it all: the Dukes of Hazzard Charger, Elvis Presley’s Cadillac and (for some inexplicable reason) a “Pizza Theatre” featuring retired animatronics Chuck E. Cheese.
Once there : If the name wasn’t already an indication, the lake is the star of the show in Lake Geneva. Spend some time relaxing on the water or, if you’re up for a little adventure (and some Instagram stories that will make all your co-workers jealous), rent a boat from Boat rentals in Marina Bay and take to open water.
Once you’ve had your fill of the lake, spend a few hours exploring Lake Geneva’s pretty town center before taking a trip to the Black Point Estate and Gardens to see how Chicago’s wealthy spent their summers on Lake Geneva (or at least how they spent them in Victorian times – there are still plenty of million dollar homes in Geneva of your choice). The mansion was built in 1888 for a Chicago beer baron, and the tour includes a lake cruise to the estate’s private island.
Where to eat: Get your first (and second, third, fourth) ice cream of the day at ballsan old-fashioned ice cream parlor that has received the Seal of Excellence at the Wisconsin State Fair for over 20 years in a row.
And be sure to check Inspireda great downtown café with a great cause — the café employs people with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities, providing skills training and, over time, placing them in a fully integrated workplace.
For dinner, you can’t go wrong Sopra – a modern Italian-American restaurant with a romantic patio and an epic wine list, plus a selection of desserts that will leave you ordering for seconds.
Where to stay: The baker’s house has been open since 1885, and each room is completely unique, with antique decorations and modern amenities (no sleeping on 130-year-old mattresses here). Plus, take advantage of the hotel’s incredible social calendar, featuring live jazz nights and champagne brunches. The hotel also offers an exclusive boating membership for anyone looking to spend a little more time on the water.
Michigan, Indiana (59 miles)
Quick, name something about Indiana! Chances are your answer was something like “steel mills” or “Michael Jackson.” But Indiana is full of surprises, including the impressive 15-mile long Indiana Dunes National Parkright next to Michigan City.
Pit stop: Albanian candy factory store
What’s a trip to the beach without a five pound bag of gummy bear factory releases? Albanese Candy – home of the “World’s Best Gummy Bear” – has a factory outlet just off the highway on your way to Indiana Dunes National Park. Take a huge bag to help you through the trip and while you’re there, take another bag on the way back.
Once there : The Indiana Dunes National Park has something for everyone, even if your idea of the great outdoors is taking a Zoom call from your balcony. Discover the dunes, then hike through the park’s 26.5 km of trails, with options ranging from leisurely strolls to hikes that Bear Grylls would be proud of. (We particularly recommend the Great Swamp Traila 1.3 mile flat boardwalk that passes through wildlife-filled wetlands.)
After your hike, switch gears completely with a trip to the Lubeznik Art Center, a unique arts center that showcases both world-renowned and local artists. If you can, align your trip with the center’s free First Friday programs, which take place from 5-8 p.m. on the first Friday of the month. Events offer free entry and free food, plus exciting events like live music, dancing and more.
If you’re in town during blueberry season, Stateline Blueberries is a family-friendly, pick-your-own blueberry open from late June through August. (Follow them website for updates on opening dates.) And if you are not in town during blueberry season…might be worth another trip to Michigan City.
Where to eat: Shore Brewery is a family brewery with 12 beers on tap, including the Stellar Glue, a German blueberry beer that is worth the trip on its own. The brasserie also offers an extensive and unexpected menu: Forget your standard bar fare, we’re talking Korean bulgogi nachos, Buffalo frog legs, stone hearth pizza and more.
We also recommend having lunch at polish peasant, an authentic Polish joint popular in the region for its homemade pierogies. (Pro tip: The restaurant is small, so get there early to find a seat.)
End the day with dinner at Galveston Steakhousean old-fashioned steakhouse with mesquite wood-grilled steaks and regular gigs by blues musicians.
Where to stay: Treat yourself to a night at Hotel Blue Chip Casino, where you can enjoy top-notch hotel amenities like a swimming pool, spa, and fitness center. (Plus, you’ll have easy access to slot machines, in case you’re feeling lucky.)
North Utica, IL (92 miles)
Hikes near a waterfall and a whole range of wine estates? North Utica is truly a summer paradise.
Pit stop: The Rootbeer Stand, Oglesby, Illinois
Make a pit stop on your mini road trip to check out The Rootbeer Stand in Ogilesby – an old-fashioned carhop with famous root beer floats and a vintage Woody statue out front.
Once there : Starved Rock State Park was voted Illinois’ #1 attraction (better luck next time The Bean) and is worth the trip whether you’re a frequent visitor or haven’t been before.
If you’re not sure where to start, the park offers free guided hikes from June through November. (Pre-registration is required here.) While you’re there, take a quick detour to Matthiessen State Park just down the road.
Hiking not your thing? Utica Electric Bike Rental can hook you up with an electric bike, the best thing to do to drive your car to the edge of the rock formation.
After you’ve had your fill of the outdoors, check out some of Utica’s many wineries. August Hill Vineyard, Clarks Run Creek Winery and Sparkling ISC all offer in-person tasting rooms, snacks, and bottles to go, so you can toast Utica from your couch.
Where to eat: Fuel up before a long day of hiking in Nonie’s Bakery and Cafe, specializing in breakfast options and desserts. (Hey, we won’t judge if your pre-ride fuel happens to be a whole cake.)
Later in the day, go Jamie’s Outpost — a unique treasure that can only be found in a small town. Part bar, part restaurant, part store, you’ll want to allow extra time to explore.
Where to stay: Hungry Rock Lodge
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Starved Rock Lodge is a true log lodge with easy access to the state park, a much-loved restaurant, and most importantly, a “Tribute to the Stars” show featuring some of the best cover artists and celebrity impersonators in the country. (We’ll see you in the front row.)
This article was published in the Inside Hook Chicago newsletter. Join now to learn more about Windy City.